Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Horizon Air is changing its direction when it comes to Walla Walla’s new flight schedule. At least as far as the clock is concerned.
The Seattle carrier, which announced it will eliminate one of Walla Walla’s three daily flights to Seattle after the first of the year, is already adjusting the proposed schedule to help meet the travel needs of the community.
The original flight from Walla Walla to Seattle will remain the same at 6:50 a.m. The second flight will leave Walla Walla at 4 p.m., instead of 5:10 p.m.
The change was announced last week when a delegation of Walla Walla business leaders met with officials from Horizon Air and the Alaska Air Group in Seattle. Though the local group ultimately wants the flight moved to even earlier in the afternoon, officials were encouraged by the airline’s attempt to accommodate the needs of the community.
"That’s an hour and 10 minutes in the right direction," said Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller, who owns World Wide Travel Service and was one of the visiting delegates to Seattle last week.
He said the change in the departure means a flight coming into Walla Walla will leave Seattle earlier. That city’s 3:40 p.m. flight will now leave for Walla Walla at 2:30 p.m.
"That helps as well," Schneidmiller said. "It makes good connections and kind of closes the gap between those two flights."
The new schedule is expected to start Jan. 17. Members of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce Air Travel Coalition will continue to lobby for further changes in the schedule, said Dave Warkentin, the Chamber’s chief executive officer.
"We think there’s a good chance we could get them to alter the schedule again in April or May," Warkentin said.
The group has hired a lobbyist to help with the effort. Bruce Tecklenburg, an air service consultant for architectural, engineering and planning consulting firm Mead & Hunt, used to be the scheduler for Alaska Air and, before that, Horizon.
Warkentin said beyond the convenience of local air travel, the flight schedule is imperative for the needs of some of Walla Walla’s employers, including Key Technology and Banner Bank.
Walla Walla is on the road to a record-breaking year for air travel with passenger numbers up 11.3 percent for the year so far. However, the community is not drawing enough travelers to fill the larger airplanes introduced by Horizon late last year.
The airline phased out its 37-seat Q200 planes in favor of the more fuel-efficient, 76-seat Q400 twin-engine turboprops. Horizon attempted to curb flight eliminations by pairing one of Walla Walla’s flights with Pasco. Officials said that move wasn’t successful in landing enough passengers.
Warkentin said Walla Walla is one of the few markets where boardings are increasing. However, revenue has not grown at the same rate.
Officials said Horizon officials last week said Walla Walla must become a profitable market over the next year. The airline also affirmed its commitment to the community.
"They plan on being a long-term service airline for Walla Walla," Schneidmiller said. "That was just really refreshing to hear that their plans are to be in Walla Walla for a long time."Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.